Precision Guided Munitions: Leading a New Era in Military Tactics



Introduction to Precision Guided Munitions

PGMs are military weapons that can accurately reach and destroy specific targets. The introduction of precision weapons has dramatically changed modern warfare. These smart bombs use various technologies like GPS, laser guidance, and infrared sensors to hit targets with a high degree of accuracy, even from long ranges. Let’s explore how PGMs work and their impact on military operations.

GPS Guided Bombs

One of the most common types of  Precision Guided Munitions  are GPS guided bombs. These weapons use the global positioning system (GPS) to navigate to their intended targets. Onboard receivers triangulate their position from signals sent by GPS satellites in orbit. Programmed target coordinates are fed into the bomb’s computer before launch. During flight, the computer guides the weapon to the exact location using its GPS navigation system. This produces a circular error probable (CEP) of just a few meters, allowing strikes on small, high-value targets. The GPS technology lets these “smart bombs” hit targets day or night in nearly any weather condition from standoff ranges.

Laser Guidance Systems

Another popular PGM technology is laser guidance. Here, a laser designator operated by troops on the ground or aircraft illuminates the target with a coded laser beam. Sensors inside the weapon’s seeker head detect this laser energy and steer tiny flight control surfaces to keep the beam centered. This trains the bomb onto the laser-designated target for an extremely precise impact within a couple meters of where the beam strikes. Laser guidance works best in line-of-sight conditions but provides accuracy superior to GPS or unguided ordnance. It has become a key capability for close air support of ground forces.

Electro-Optical and Infrared Systems

Some guided bombs employ electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) seekers that use imaging technology to distinguish intended targets from their surroundings. An onboard camera and processor analyze visible light or infrared radiation emitted or reflected by the target and surrounding area. After launch, these systems guide the weapon independently to the identified target without needing GPS or laser designation. EO/IR munitions offer an “all-weather” capability but their accuracy depends on how distinct the target signature appears compared to its background under different conditions.

Integration with Modern Strike Aircraft

Precision weapons have become standard ordnance for many modern combat aircraft. For example, U.S. fighter jets like the F-15E Strike Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon regularly carry GPS and laser-guided bombs in their weapons bays. Stealth platforms such as the F-22 Raptor and B-2 Spirit are optimized for carrying PGMs deep into defended airspace. Bombers like the B-1B Lancer and B-52 Stratofortress can deploy large salvos of stand-off PGMs from outside range of enemy air defenses. Cruise missiles and attack drones increasingly employ precision guidance as well. This integration ensures air forces have an all-weather precision strike capability unmatched by unguided weapons.

Reduced Collateral Damage

Perhaps the most significant impact of PGMs has been a reduction in civilian casualties and collateral infrastructure damage during military operations. Compared to “dumb” bombs that dispersed over wide areas, smart weapons can selectively damage military targets while minimizing harm to surrounding non-combatants and property. This precision allows armed forces to surgically attack high-value enemy assets embedded within populated areas with reduced risk of causing disproportionate harm. It supports legal and ethical rules of engagement by avoiding indiscriminate attacks that endanger civilians. Minimized collateral effects make precision strikes politically preferable to carpet bombing campaigns of the past. PGMs have thus greatly changed perceptions of what constitutes a “humanitarian” military operation.

Changing Nature of Modern Conflict

The development and proliferation of precision guided munitions have revolutionized modern warfare by changing how armed conflicts are fought. Precision weapons have enabled surgical strikes on small, elusive targets once considered invulnerable to air attack. Their widespread use has also shifted strategic paradigms, allowing engagement of an enemy’s weaknesses rather than matching force with force. Reliance on PGMs alters rules of engagement, force structures, and military operational concepts. Both their availability and absence have shaped recent conflicts, from the Gulf War to present-day counterinsurgency and counterterrorism campaigns. Precision weapons will remain a defining characteristic of twenty-first century warfare as their capabilities continue advancing. Overall, PGMs have transformed the nature and conduct of armed conflict in fundamental ways.

In summary, precision guided munitions have had enormous impacts since being introduced several decades ago. Smart bomb technologies like GPS, laser, and electro-optical guidance systems enable strikes of unprecedented accuracy from long distances. Their integration with modern combat aircraft has become standard practice. Perhaps most significantly, PGMs have changed expectations of minimizing civilian harm during military operations. Overall, precision weapons have revolutionized modern warfare and will define military engagement well into the future as their capabilities advance further.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
  2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it